Good morning to all the beautiful people of the Virgin Islands.
During the Budget Address on Tuesday, the Honourable Premier indicated that in a matter of days the public could expect a major announcement with respect to airlifts to the Virgin Islands.
Well, the Premier is a man of his word, and I am thankful, for him placing the confidence in me, to appointing me, Minister for the Airports.
This morning, I am elated to announce that we have been given the confirmation to publicly release that starting 1st June 2023, American Airlines will begin direct flights between the Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport at Beef Island and the Miami International Airport in the Mainland USA and American Airlines has simultaneously issued a press release to this effect.
Let me repeat that again. On June 1st, American Airlines will begin direct flights between Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport at Beef Island and Miami International Airport in Mainland U.S.A. and they have simultaneously issued a press release to this effect.
Persons would be able to start booking their seats as early as tomorrow, 3rd December 2022 on American Airlines’ online portal at www.aa.com.
American Airlines’ direct service to the Virgin Islands will see daily flights departing Miami at 10:25 am and arriving at Beef Island at 1:30 pm; leaving Beef Island at 2:30 pm and arriving in Miami at 5:30 pm.
What is even better for us is that Miami is American Airlines’ home base, and American Airlines is the largest carrier at Miami International Airport. This means that persons traveling out of the Virgin Islands using this service, including Virgin Islanders, Belongers, Residents, and Visitors, will be able to seamlessly connect to more than 140 destinations that are serviced by American Airlines, including other Caribbean destinations and the rest of the world.
It also means that conversely, it is now a lot easier, faster, more convenient – and it will be more affordable – for potential visitors to travel to the Virgin Islands for vacation, business meetings, and so forth. This is a game changer for the Virgin Islands because it opens up a world of possibilities for us.
This service, as I said, will commence on 1st June 2023.
The aircraft that will be used for this service will be an Embraer E175, which can operate with our existing runway length. It was only on the 14th of September of this year, that we landed an Embraer E190 operated by Sky High Airlines, safely into Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport. This proved that the existing length of our runaway is indeed suitable for this American Airlines Embraer E175 which is smaller to operate a direct flight from the mainland USA.
Based on the number of flights per week and the capacity of the aircraft, we are looking at a possible increase of over 100 additional passengers moving per week or about 455 additional passengers arriving in the Virgin Islands per week.
The impact of this will be tremendously positive for us.
In the first instance, our people will have the convenience of hopping on a flight and being in Miami within hours; so persons can take their long-weekend and holiday getaways, which are a bit more tedious to manage with our current travel options.
Automatically, these American Airlines direct flights will mean an increase in economic opportunities for our beautiful Virgin Islands, especially, our taxi drivers, tour operators, accommodation property owners, vehicle rental companies, and many other businesses.
In the Budget Address, the Premier mentioned that persons should outfit any suitable places that they have for Airbnb. I want to endorse that recommendation because there is going to be a demand for rooms from June 2023; with over 400 additional persons arriving in the Virgin Islands.
All of this activity is also going to have a ripple effect throughout the economy, and open up immense possibilities for us, as I am sure the Honourable Premier will elaborate shortly on that.
The restoration of American Airlines flights to the Virgin Islands, especially at this time, is a major accomplishment for us. A lot of hard work has gone into making this a reality.
I want to thank and congratulate the Managing Director of the BVI Airports Authority(BVIAA), Mr. Kurt Menal, and his team at the BVIAA. I must make mention also of Director Mr. Clive Smith and Ms. Drucilla Fahie, who have all been working ceaselessly over the past few months – dialoguing, liaising with several airlines so that we can have route development and increased airlifts, not just to the Mainland USA but to other regional and caribbean destinations as well.
I also wish to thank the Director of Tourism, Mr. Clive McCoy, and his team at the BVI Tourist Board, who have also contributed to our efforts to increase airlift over the past few months.
It was only in October 2022 that I led a delegation that included Mr. McCoy, Mr. Menal, and other officials of the BVIAA including the then newly appointed Chairman of the BVIAA Board Mr. Theodore Burke, to the Routes World Event in Las Vegas, where we met with several airlines, of which American Airlines was one of them, with whom we had already been having conversations. Since the Routes Event, the conversation with American Airlines shifted into high gear.
I must also thank the newly appointed boards of the BVI Airports Authority and the BVI Tourist Board who have been supporting our efforts since they assumed office, and especially Dr. the Honourable Premier Natalio Wheatley, and my ministerial colleagues, who have also rendered invaluable support when called upon.
And let me say that American Airlines decision to resume its service to the Virgin Islands at this time demonstrates their overwhelming confidence in the BVI and our tourism product.
Firstly, American Airlines is starting, as I said, with daily flights. In many of the other destinations that they ventured into, they started with flights two or three days per week only. They will be flying to the Virgin Islands every day.
Secondly, throughout our negotiations and discussions with American, not once did the question of minimum seat guarantee concessions come up. So, we are not paying American Airlines to come to the BVI and there are no minimum seat guarantees. This speaks volumes for the confidence American Airlines sees in the Virgin Islands and the high demand for our destination.
What we have achieved today, and other similar achievements that are in stream for the future is a result of a refocused approach towards air service development taken by this Government and the BVIAA, aimed at optimizing the current facilities and capacity while at the same time fine-tuning the airport masterplan to meet the needs for future demand and continued need for air connectivity.
We are working with what we have; generating more business, generating more revenue, while we put things in place for expansion.